Cinematography by technical definition is the art and science of recording light and by functional definition, it is everything that has to do with the camera, its movement, the images, the light it receives, etc. A cinematographer often called the Director of Photography or DoP, is the chief person controlling the camera and light crew in a production. Mastering this art would require spending years learning the basics and then gaining hands-on industry experience. But some of the most important things are not learned in the four walls of a school rather in the years that follow it, the time spent on the set. Here we have compiled the 11 best cinematography techniques and tips that your film school probably did not teach you.
- Create Reasonable Art
A film school teaches you to value the story and take your art seriously, but it rarely teaches you how to create reasonable, visually-versed art. Give importance to each frame and treat it as an individual work of art and when you do, it will turn out perfectly.
As you gain more experience, you will learn more and more about camera angles and movements, use this knowledge to create powerful techniques. Familiarize yourself with the basic principles as they have always remained the same even though the tools of creating powerful images have changed.
- Don’t Be Afraid of Risks
You need to push your creative limits and not be afraid to break some rules and take risks. Taking calculated risks can be truly rewarding and will even help you grow as a cinematographer. If you get into a habit of always playing it safe, your work will become mundane. Instead, break those simple rules you were taught in your school. Experiment with techniques you are already familiar with and ditch them sometimes to try something new. Who knows maybe your best cinematography will appear when you think out of the box.
- Familiarise Yourself With The Script
This is probably not something you already didn’t know about but it is a point that needs emphasizing. Never forget that as a cinematographer, your work is as creative as it is technical. So, the ideas you think of implementing should go hand in hand with the script. Come up with suggestions, ideas, and questions wherever you feel relevant. As a cinematographer knowing the top tools of the industry won’t make much of a difference to your profession as would knowing the art of storytelling. Learn how people are making exceptional art out of the most basic production techniques so that when the time comes you can make an impactful statement with your skills to the script that you are shooting.
- Choose The Right Gear
Not all of your shoots will have top-notch gear and you need to know what is the best gear for the shoot within the budget. For this, you need to familiarise yourself with as many kinds of cameras and lenses as you possibly can. Know what it is like to work with top-of-the-line equipment but also the not-so-best and to produce cinematic masterpieces with both.
- Test Shots
The basic camera tests of chip charts, colour charts, and human models must be done as soon as you get your hands on the camera. This will tell you how the camera is going to react to the lighting and the techniques you will be using for the shoot. Testing is an important step if you do not want people waiting for you on the set so that you familiarise yourself with the camera.
To create dramatic contrasts, you should play with colours. An effective cinematic technique is mixing discordant colours. An understanding of colour theory is essential in identifying the right colours to use. Contrasting colours when kept with each other give a vibrant effect when photographed. Even though sometimes colours can be a part of the production design, you can work alongside them to create the right mix.
- Create a Shot List
After doing a tech scout, making a well-planned and organized shot list to determine what lenses will be required is going to help a lot in your job as a cinematographer. You will learn how to create a perfect shot list as you spend more time on the field; learning new tools on the set, your capabilities, and how the camera should be used in order to successfully implement the script. A lot of cinematography techniques are dependent on the way you understand and use the tools.
Have an eye for good locations and spend a considerable time understanding how light will look there at different times of the day. If you are not familiar with the shoot location, take a visit with your camera before the shoot date. The more you know and familiarise yourself with the location, the better will your chances be of capturing excellent shots with great ease under all the pressures of the set.
- Develop a Workflow
As you grow and learn advanced cinematographic techniques, so will your workflow. Having a consistent workflow makes it easier for the people around you to follow along. A steady plan for every shoot to block, light, rehearse, shoot, adjust and repeat the entire process that works for you. To ensure you get the perfect shot, devise a plan on how you will block the subject, use the lighting to your advantage and other necessary steps you will undertake. Keep making important adjustments to your workflow and own it.
- Get Creative With The Lens
Being a cinematographer, you shouldn’t shy away from experimenting as such experiments are often liked by the audience. Getting creative and using a 21mm wide lens for a close-up or a long lens for an establishing shot are cinematography techniques that intrigue viewers. Sometimes these experiments can help pave a new creative direction. Challenge the status quo and get creative with your techniques.
Part of being a great cinematographer is being a great leader. Learn how you can be a leader to your crew by acquiring not creative or technical but basic people skills. A crew that works effortlessly in sync with each other contributes to producing powerful, impactful, and natural shots. As a leader, you need to make clear decisions and act well even under pressure. Show respect towards everyone and never be afraid of admitting your mistakes. Your mistakes teach you how to be better. If you are efficient in your work with good cinematography, fast setup, and timely wrap-ups, you are already the crew’s favourite.
As you spend more years in the industry you will continue learning new things. The basic principles of cinematography remain the same and must be followed, but every once in a while take risks and experiment with your craft. Being a cinematographer is being an artist, a technician, and a manager all at once. This job requires you to play multiple roles and you can only learn some things through experience. Practice and work as much as you can to create well-organized shot lists and each shoot a masterpiece.